I have been slowly getting myself back into the groove since getting back from Australia. Big thanks go to Jon Pratty for managing DAO in my absence.
I saw some terrific work in Australia, met some great people and learnt a lot from the process about my journey through Disability Arts. On a personal level it has been a difficult time. At the beginning of this year my son began treading a similar journey to my own disability-wise - and it has made me reflect a lot on who I am and how I got here. I can only hope that I can support him in finding a way of making his own disability journey as rewarding as I have been able to do for myself.
In Adelaide I had the privilege of attending and giving a presentation at a Disability Arts Forum South Australia meeting. I was invited by Gaelle Mellis of Restless Dance Company to talk about my own journey and reflections on the Disability Arts movement. In many ways it was like coming across an emergent London Disability Arts Forum from the early 1980s. Disabled people were just beginning to get their heads around the Social Model of Disability and to think about how they could get their voices heard in a more effective way. The group of disabled artists, carers and allies had been going for two years and were just beginning to have conversations about becoming incorporated and to look at ways that they could create a structure which fitted their aims and intentions.
Finding and creating opportunities to have a voice, as a disabled person, is a tricky business at the best of times. From my experience acceptance as a disabled person has to come from within first and foremost. It can take many years, a life time, even. Many disabled people don’t get to that point, for a variety of reasons to do with internalised oppression, fear of being labelled etc. etc. But it is only once you’ve come to terms with what disability gives and what it takes, that you can begin to put yourself out in the world. It was encouraging, invigorating to see energy building around the struggle for empowerment happening in Australia – even if some there might say that they are a long way behind what is happening in the UK.
I would say that there is a lot to be learnt both ways around. In Australia I felt that they have gone beyond the hang-up we seem to hang on to in the UK, that Disability Art is about Art. The problems there are more to do with who has creative control over the Art – what it says about the Disability experience; the way it is funded and the way it is marketed. Mostly the control lies with non-disabled producers. That isn’t a problem when those producers are coming from the right place in terms of giving creative control. But there are keen issues to do with definition and identity that can create barriers, especially when disabled people don’t feel their voices are being heard or their interests represented.
Over the coming week or so I plan to give an overview of the Disability Arts activity I saw and reflect on the things I have learnt … so stay tuned …